"D.C. Cab," a new movie that was filmed here and is now playing at area theatres, took me on a rambunctious ride to the underside of my hometown and showed me familiar places and characters.
As a D.C. native son, I have met many of the city's jokers, hustlers, dreamers, unsung heroes and would-be revolutionaries. "D.C. Cab" centers on these atypical Washingtonians.
The movie portrays them as underdogs in a wild, multi-ethnic and unpredictable city where the bottom rung on the ladder to success sits squarely behind the wheel of a cab.
As one song in the movie states, these are the folk "on the street" and "under pressure" trying to keep their dreams alive.
Producers of the movie probably don't know that the real-life models for several of their cinematic caricatures rarely drive or ride in taxis. These folks usually stand on street corners or travel on the back seats of inner-city Metrobuses where they can be seen smoking marijuana, drinking liquor and talking loudly.
The movie character most familiar to me is Tyrone, an uptight young black man who is angry at what he calls a racist "system."
In classic, self-defeating retaliation, he has lost his self-esteem and pretends unconcern for everything. "Now, this system's got one more crazy, dumb-ass nigger just like it deserves," he says.
I grew up with would-be revolutionaries like Tyrone. Many of them dropped out of school and now are either dead or in prison.
Then there is Samson, played by Mr. T, who wants "to do something for the kids" in his inner-city neighborhood to protect them from the evils of Washington street life.
Samson's young niece is captivated by the fast life of drug dealers and pimps. This is an accurate picture in some neighborhoods, where pimps lure girls with a sly smile and a ride in a big fancy car, known as a "pimpmobile."
There are unsung heroes like Samson in many of these neighborhoods. I know one who works at an understaffed recreation center in far Northeast, in the midst of a drug war. Another operates a cultural center in an old warehouse that has been converted into a community art museum.
Another familiar personality in the film is Baba, a young, talented guy who can't seem to get the right break. In D.C., there seems to be a proliferation of Babas. They are young and gifted, but often end up driving cabs.
"The big fear," Baba says, " . . . is the fear that the music you're writing or your brilliant first novel that's like a draft away from being a best seller or your plans for law school have to wait . . . and in the meantime you're becoming a cab driver."
The bulk of the movie was made on Hollywood sound stages, but there are several "on location" scenes shot in the District that give the movie an authentic feeling. Of course, there are shots of the White House, Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. There are also shots of the District Building, the Capital Hilton, Arlington National Cemetery and several embassies.
But in keeping with the film's concentration on D.C.'s underside, the movie camera pans down the 1800 block of Seventh Street NW, to give a glimpse of a popular basketball court that features a wallpainting called "The Ghetto." There's a shot of another familiar sight across the street, at the corner of Seventh and T near the Howard Theatre, where drunks and unemployed black men hang out.
The Junkyard Band, whose members live at the Barry Farms public housing project in Southeast D.C., and the Cardozo High School Marching Band also appear in the film.
The most astonishing thing about D.C. Cab is its depiction of the Florida Avenue Grill, a Washington inner-city landmark, as a white establishment with a black cook and black cashier who smile and clap, but say nothing. The real restaurant is black-owned.
Despite its shortcomings, "D.C. Cab" is an hour and 40 minutes worth of finger-popping music and gags. But viewers should remember that this low-budget film features large doses of vulgarity meant to illicit several cheap laughs.